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21 May 2010

Rick Casey on Juvenile Sentencing

via The StandDown Texas Project by Steve Hall on 5/21/10

His column in today's Houston Chronicle is, "That liberal legislature ... in Texas."

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday barred sentences of life without parole for juveniles who committed crimes other than murder. The vote was 5-4.

This will surprise a lot of Texans — and even more outsiders — but a year ago the Texas Legislature went the Supreme Court one farther.

It barred sentences of life without parole for juveniles who commit capital murder.

And the vote wasn't even as close as the Supreme Court's.

The Senate passed the bill 30-1. The House passed it 124-21, a ratio of 6-1.

And Gov. Rick Perry signed it.

This is a rare case of the U.S. Supreme Court following Texas, not vice-versa.

The Supreme Court gave hope to 129 prisoners serving sentences of life without parole for crimes they committed as juveniles, but not a single one was in Texas. In Texas, life without parole is only given in capital murder cases.

We do have 20 juvenile offenders serving life without parole for capital murders, who were saved when the U.S. Supreme Court in 2005 ruled, 5-4, that the death penalty could not be given to those who were under 18 when they committed a crime. Of the 20, three were 15 when they committed capital murder. Four were 16 and the rest 17.

Under a Texas law that covered all capital murders, the only punishment available other than death was life without parole. Sen. Juan Hinojosa (D-McAllen) carried last year's bill, arguing that science had shown that teenagers were not mentally and emotionally fully developed and should not be classified as being beyond rehabilitation.

The law is not exactly lenient. It requires that convicts serve a full 40 years, with no reduction for good behavior, before they are even eligible for parole. What's more, it doesn't help those 20 already in prison, since it applies only to crimes committed after last Sept. 1.


Defense lawyers are already talking about asking the Supreme Court to bar life without parole for juveniles convicted of murder.

It's not hard to imagine them arguing that if the Texas Legislature bans it, then it must be outside of societal norms.

Earlier coverage of the Graham v. Florida ruling begins with this post.  There's been almost universal praise for the ruling from editorial boards across the nation.  Later today, I'll link to the editorial coverage.

Posted via email from the Un-Official Southwestern PA Re-Entry Coalition Blog

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